GrassRoots dilemma: Who’s pulling the strings?
October 9, 2007
ASPEN – When GrassRoots TV board members decide Thursday whether to air a controversial Holocaust denial film, they will break the mold in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Steve Campbell, founder of Citizens for 9/11 Truth, recently asked GrassRoots TV to air “Judea Declares War on Germany: A Critical Look at World War II,” but the GrassRoots board of directors denied him. That decision led to a meeting later this week at which board members will make a policy decision regarding GrassRoots programming.
As a community station, GrassRoots has been “self-regulated” for years, said John Masters, executive director of the station.
But the controversial film poses a new challenge, Masters noted, adding that he welcomes board involvement and community input.
“I make all of the day-to-day decisions. The board’s job is to set policy,” Masters said. “The board is not getting involved necessarily in this specific programming decision, but they are going to set a policy, and this program will abide by that.”
Boards don’t wield that kind of power at two other local nonprofit media outlets, Aspen Public Radio and KDNK Community Radio in Carbondale.
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“We really like to promote active dialogue with the board,” said Andrew Todd, executive director at Aspen Public Radio, also known as KAJX. “But no one has ever said, ‘Don’t do that.'”
Aspen Public Radio buys content from National Public Radio (NPR) and other media sources and has no control over its content, Todd said. If there is explicit language in a segment, NPR sends an internal memo warning affiliates.
Locally produced programming is unfettered, Todd said.
KAJX editorial staff and management make the call on all news reporting and programming, Todd said.
“I would never put the kibosh on anything unless it was journalistically unethical,” Todd said.
KAJX convenes a programming board, and a representative from the board of directors sits in, but otherwise there is no board involvement in station content, Todd said.
Steve Skinner, general manager of KDNK, said hot-button topics and issues with controversial volunteer announcers always have been worked out without the help of a board.
“People tend to explode if they need to,” Skinner said, but he’s never had to shut down a program.
Potential on-air personalities at KDNK volunteer 12 hours per year and go through rigorous training before taking the airwaves, a process that “weeds out” potential crackpots, Skinner said.
And KDNK staff is “hands-on,” Skinner said. The Federal Communications Commission’s decency standards and grievance policies limit presenters.
“I’ve been very lucky that I haven’t had to deal with yahoos,” Skinner said, noting that he doesn’t micromanage some 70 volunteer radio announcers.
“I’ll hear the f-bomb on my radio station more than I’d like to admit,” Skinner said, mostly in songs, but radio presenters who are well-informed and follow station guidelines are given access to the airwaves.
“I fight for unfettered access to the airwaves,” he said. “They’re just words ” they won’t hurt you.”
“We haven’t had to board up the windows yet,” Masters joked, but GrassRoots TV has received a number of calls and e-mails from around the country about airing the film, Masters said.
He called Thursday’s board meeting ” tentatively scheduled for 12:30 p.m. at the Red Brick Arts and Recreation Center ” an opportunity for “fascinating discussion” about the station’s mission.
“I operate in the spirit that the viewer and the citizen are the best judge. … [GrassRoots] is a community entity, and ultimately the community is in charge,” Masters said. “That’s what makes GrassRoots different than any other media is that there isn’t someone that is gate keeping with their individual agenda.”
Masters said that when GrassRoots opened in 1971, the station was a unique community forum.
“It’s a different game now,” Masters said. “The Internet is really great for accessing information outside the community.”
Charles Agar’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org